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November 30, 2013

Quick hitters: NU 37 Illinois 34


Finally, after seven straight losses, Northwestern notched its first Big Ten win of the year. And it even won them a trophy.

The Wildcats posted a 37-34 victory over Illinois, their first since Sept. 21, to retain the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

Here are our quick hitters:



Offensive game ball: We're going to have to split the award between quarterback Trevor Siemian and wide receiver Christian Jones, who both set career highs in carrying the Wildcats to the win. Siemian had by far his best performance of the season, completing 31 of 44 passes for a career-best 414 yards and four TDs. Jones was Siemian's favorite target, hauling in 13 catches for 182 yards, both career highs, and two SportsCenter-worthy TDs -- a one-handed, leaping stab in the first quarter, and NU's last score, a diving 7-yarder on the sideline.



Offensive big play: Jones' final TD was the dagger, but we will nominate Rashad Lawrence's 23-yard scoring grab on the first play of the fourth quarter. Siemian's throw was slightly behind Lawrence, but he reached back to reel it in. The TD gave the Wildcats a 30-27 lead and swung both the scoreboard and the momentum back in the Wildcats' favor.



Defensive game ball:Dean Lowry notched 1.5 sacks as he and the Wildcats' front four were able to get pressure on Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase throughout the contest. Lowry dropped Scheelhaase for a 12-yard loss in the first quarter. Then, he and C.J. Robbins combined to sack Scheelhaase on a critical third-and-3 at the NU 9-yard line. Lowry and Robbins chased Scheelhaase to the sidelined and pushed him out of bounds before he could get rid of the ball, forcing the Illini to settle for a field goal.



Defensive big play: There's no doubt about this one: Tyler Scott's interception of Scheelhaase in the fourth quarter. Northwestern had just taken a 30-27 lead when Scheelhaase was again scrambling to the sideline. His attempt at throwing the ball away landed right in the chest of Scott, who bobbled the ball while tiptoeing down the boundary. The play was reviewed and stood, giving the Wildcat defense its first turnover since Scott's fourth-quarter pick against Nebraska on Nov. 2.



Turning point: The Wildcats were trailing 27-23 when Justin DuVernois' 66-yard punt pinned NU on its own 2-yard line. From there, the Wildcats mounted a game-changing 11-play, 98-yard drive that ended with Lawrence's touchdown and the lead they wouldn't relinquish. Siemian was 5-for-5 for 74 yards on the drive.



Stat of the day: 414, Northwestern's total passing yards. That represents NU's highest total of the season by 39 yards.



Questionable call: For several weeks, fans on the WildcatReport message board have been clamoring for coach Pat Fitzgerald to call a trick play. They finally got it, and it was a disaster. Facing a fourth-and-goal at the Illinois 5, Northwestern sent out the field goal team. But they eschewed what would have been an automatic 22-yarder from Jeff Budzien. Instead, holder Brandon Williams took the snap, rolled to his right and threw an incomplete pass under pressure. Yuck.



Unsung hero: Christian Jones received most of the attention, and rightfully so, but Lawrence deserves some love too. Lawrence finished with five catches for 112 yards, including his TD and a 54-yarder -- Northwestern's longest play of the game -- to set up a field goal.



Atmosphere: Just about what you'd expect for a battle between two teams that were a combined 1-13 in the Big Ten on Thanksgiving weekend. Memorial Stadium was maybe half full because there were fewer than the 37,058 fans announced as the official attendance. It looked a lot like Ryan Field often does for non-conference games. The lure of the Land of Lincoln Trophy only goes so far, apparently.





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